MAYOR BABOUN: (Via interpreter) Yes. Your Excellency, Mr. John Kerry, Secretary of the United States; His Excellency, Dr. Mustafa, Deputy Prime Minister and representative of the President; Your Excellencies and eminent attendees and distinguished audience, on behalf of myself and on behalf of the municipality of Bethlehem and the people and residents of the City of the Nativity, I would like to welcome you in the city of peace, the Nativity of Jesus Christ.
Allow me at the beginning to praise the role of the United States and its incessant efforts in making peace in the Holy Land, and also in supporting economical development projects in Palestine on the whole and in the city of Bethlehem in particular. USAID is considered to be our primary and closest partner. It works on developing vital sectors in the city of Bethlehem, especially infrastructure, tourism, public services, and it also assists us through its implementing agencies, including (inaudible). It participates in putting down a smart and effective plan for the future of the city, thus contributing to the restoration of the glory of Bethlehem and making it a bright star in the skies of the world.
Your Excellency, Secretary of State, your visit to the city of Bethlehem carries a very noble message. It comes at a time when the city of peace, the capital of peace, is suffering from a very painful situation. There is a war that is besieging it and there are settlements that are being built on the land of its citizens. And more importantly, it’s under a siege that is separating it from its historic twin, which is the city of Jerusalem. This geographic siege is also a siege and – for the historic city, a message of the city of Bethlehem, the eternal message for peace and love.
Our dear guests in the city of Bethlehem, our hands are extended to peace and they are still extended, both at the level of the leadership and the people. But it is the peace that is based on justice, equality, and international legitimacy. This is the kind of peace that will last and stay, and we believe that your role is very important in achieving this goal. Your family name is an indication to the role and part that you have to play. Your name is Kerry and you are the carrier of peace. (Applause.)
I thank you once again, and I would like to extend to you and your family a visit to – an invitation to visit Bethlehem and take part in the Christmas celebrations that will take place on December 24th.
And now, I call to the podium the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Dr. Mohammad Mustafa.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MUSTAFA: Thank you, Mayor. This is a great speech, great impression, this very important guest of Palestine, Secretary Kerry. On behalf of the President, President Abbas, the senior government, and our people, people of Palestine, I’d like to welcome the Honorable Secretary of State John Kerry in Bethlehem, in Palestine. Now I’m going to turn (inaudible).
(Via interpreter) We gather here today in Bethlehem to inaugurate one of the many USAID programs that are spread throughout the West Bank and that are aimed to enhance the infrastructure of the future independent Palestinian state. I would also like to thank its representative and Administrator, Mr. Raj Shah, who is here today.
Mr. Secretary, our people are looking forward to their independence, and for that reason, the economic and political efforts that you are exerting are very important, and we very much appreciate them and look forward to (inaudible).
As we launch this project, Mr. Secretary, we remember the difficult economic situation not just in Bethlehem, but in all Palestinian cities that are lacking in jobs and in development and other economic arenas. And these are very fundamental issues that our sovereign independent state would be in need of. And we would also like to mention the efforts of the friendly donor countries and their assistance to us, especially the U.S. and USAID. We would also like to mention the economic initiative that you, Mr. Secretary, launched a while ago in partnership with the Palestinian Government and the Quartet, which are poised to launch this partnership also with the private sector here.
Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Palestinian people, I would like to thank you personally and also thank President Obama and the friendly American people for the support that they’re extending not just to the city of peace, but to the rest of Palestinian cities. We would also like to thank you for your courage and commitment to a last and just peace between Israel and the Palestine. For our part, we are committed to do our share in order to attain peace. This peace would enable every man, woman, and child in Palestine to exercise their full rights in an independent and prosperous Palestinian state and also contribute to peace in the entire region.
And now, I am pleased to call on Mr. Kerry to give his speech. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa. Thank you for your efforts, your friendship. And thank you, Mayor Baboun, for your wonderful welcome to the city of peace, the Church of the Nativity, an historic city and a meaningful one to everybody in the world.
It’s wonderful to be back here, especially on a very beautiful day like today, and I’m delighted to see the ministers here. Thank you for joining us. And I particularly appreciate the efforts that Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa is making to help create transformation economically, to help create opportunity and prosperity for the Palestinian people.
I want to acknowledge Dr. Raj Shah, who is standing behind me, who is our outstanding Administrator of USAID and his team, who have been working very hard throughout the West Bank and the territories to help provide assistance to Palestinian people. Over the last five years, USAID has done extraordinary work here which is not known to many people, but in the West Bank and Gaza, USAID has been involved in rehabilitating over 350 kilometers of roads. That is no small feat.
And there’s very special meaning for me to be back in Bethlehem, especially meaningful to be in Manger Square as we begin to approach the holiday season and Christmas. I’ve been here before. I have always wanted to be here for Christmas, and one of these days, I will.
The last time I was here was a few months ago when President Obama and I had the privilege of visiting the Church of the Nativity with Abu Mazen. And during that same visit, President Obama articulated the long held belief of all of us in the United States – that peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible. Since then, both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership have made courageous decisions, difficult decisions, to come back to the peace talks. As in any negotiation, there will be moments of up and moments of down and it goes back and forth, but I can tell you President Obama and I are determined, and neither of us will stop in our efforts to pursue the possibility. We are determined to try to bring lasting peace to the people of this region. And we are convinced that despite the difficulties, both leaders – President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu – are also determined to work towards this goal.
Even as we work towards this goal, we, the United States, remain deeply committed to a peaceful, prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians. We need to develop the economies to show both peoples that peace has the benefits of economic opportunity and prosperity and a better quality of life. So I want to underscore the two-state solution that we seek is not an end unto itself. Our concern is not just whether or not people can define where the borders fall on the map, but whether or not people are able to map out a better future for themselves and their children.
And that’s what brings us to Bethlehem today – the thriving economies, the shared prosperity that we seek, the dreams of the kids that I just met over here who are part of the youth council who want to see more economic development, more jobs and opportunity in their beloved Bethlehem. These things will require investment, capital, innovation, infrastructure.
So I appreciate Mayor Baboun’s reference to the fact that I am working to be the carrier of peace, but today, I get to be the carrier of some money. (Laughter.) Today, I am proud to announce that on behalf of the American people, we will deliver an additional $75 million from micro-infrastructure projects that will begin within the next six months. (Applause.) Combined with the 25 million that the United States pledged in September just a couple months ago, we have now committed $100 million to support micro-infrastructure initiatives in the West Bank, and they will help bring real improvement to Palestinian communities and lives.
Here’s what these investments will mean. They will mean more health commitments, better transportation networks, new community centers and schools. And while the international community can help, the Palestinian Authority and municipal authorities will always be the key and the key partners in these local endeavors. In fact, the Palestinian Authority has already identified some 200 projects which we are seeking additional funding – an additional 50 million from other donors. I’m pleased to announce today that Germany has committed more than $10 million towards this initiative, and we are absolutely confident that in the days ahead, more countries will be joining up and helping in this initiative.
Now, as you can see from the work that’s going on right here on this street, some of this work that we’re talking about is happening right here in Bethlehem, even as we speak. One of the projects that we’re talking about is improving three kilometers of roads between now and next May so that we can enhance travelers’ safety, reduce travel times, and promote economic development and tourism. By better connecting Manger Square to the city of Bethlehem, we’ll better connect people with jobs and better connect tourists and pilgrims to this holy place.
I want you to imagine the possibilities of peace. Nowhere better represents the untapped potential of the Palestinian economy than where we are standing today. Just imagine the potential tourism – global tourism in unprecedented numbers that can begin to build and grow and develop this region as a whole if peace were able to be achieved.
Now, let me emphasize – and I want to totally emphasize this – I’ve said many times economic support is not a substitute for a negotiated political settlement. The Palestinian economy will not be built on foreign aid alone. It will be built on the hard work and the entrepreneurship of the Palestinian people, and it would be built on the foundation of a politically arrived-at peace. And that’s why this kind of project is just one of the ways that we will be supporting the international – the region’s economy.
Over the longer term, we’re going to need to work on ways to unleash the full potential of the Palestinian private sector, and we’re working very closely with Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa and others in order to develop the private sector-led Palestinian Economic Initiative which can bring even more jobs and transformational growth to the region.
I know that in the days ahead, there will be more announcements of the possibilities of what could be achieved. I emphasize that the challenges on the road to peace are too well known to every single one of us. We’ve seen the disappointments. We know how complicated it could be. But what is clear and must remain clear in everybody’s vision are the benefits that can come with peace. This is a road not just worth building here, but it’s a road worth traveling on, all of us, working to find ways to put the past behind us and build a future for our children and for their children in future generations.
Thank you for the privilege of being with you. Shukran. (Applause.)